Friday 25 December 2020

Irish Racecourses: Leopardstown

Leopardstown Racecourse is situated in Foxrock, in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County, on the east coast of Ireland, approximately eight miles southeast of Dublin city centre. Leopardstown stages 23 meetings, under both codes, throughout the year and is, in fact, the foremost multipurpose racecourse in the country. 

Under National Hunt Rules, Leopardstown is home to 14 Grade One races over hurdles and fences, seven of which are staged during the Christmas Festival and seven of which are staged during the Dublin Racing Festival. The Christmas Festival which, as the name suggests, is held over four days starting on Boxing Day, or St. Stephen’s Day, is a traditional seasonal highlight of the Irish horse racing calendar. Feature races include the Savills Chase, formerly the Lexus Chase, and the Christmas Hurdle. 

The Dublin Racing Festival, inaugurated in 2018, was created by amalgamating three one-day fixtures, previously staged in January and February, into a two-day event held in early February. The Dublin Racing Festival brings together two iconic races in the Irish National Hunt calendar – the Irish Champion Hurdle and the Irish Gold Cup – and, over fifteen races, offers €1.5 million in prize money. 

On the Flat, the seasonal highlight at Leopardstown is the Irish Champion Stakes Day, which is the first day of the so-called Irish Champions Weekend, with the second day staged at the Curragh. Aside from the Irish Champion Stakes itself, the eight-race card also features another Group One contest, the Matron Stakes and a full supporting programme, worth a total of €2.45 million in prize money. 

The steeplechase course at Leopardstown is wide, left-handed oval, approximately a mile and three-quarters in circumference, with ten, fairly stiff fences and a short home straight, approximately three furlongs in length. Aside from a gradual climb from the top of the home straight to the winning post, the course is fairly flat with easy turns so, consequently, essentially galloping in character. Three fences in the back straight, one of which is an open ditch, arrive in quick succession and can prove troublesome for less-than-fluent jumpers. The inner hurdles course, with seven hurdles to a circuit, is sharper in character than the steeplechase course and tends to favour horses that race on, or close to, the pace. 

On the Flat course, the 6-furlong start is positioned close to the bend at the end of the back straight, so a low draw is advantageous. Races tend to begin in earnest some way from the winning post which, coupled with the climb up the straight, means that stamina is often at a premium; making all the running is difficult, but not impossible.